Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach has instituted a new way of helping businesses form and grow that many believe is helping the Springs become the “most business friendly city” in the state.
However, the program apparently hasn’t been as successful at creating jobs as the city’s economic vitality office touts. The office says its newly created “Rapid Response” program — which is designed to cut the amount of time to go through the city’s permitting process in half — has created 2,000 jobs and retained an additional 2,600, all displayed in a PowerPoint presentation and in an Excel spreadsheet.
Talk to the businesses involved, though, and the numbers just don’t add up.
For instance, the city says USAA added 350 new jobs in 2012 and retained 1,250 positions. But USAA spokeswoman Nicole Alley says that’s not the case — even after checking multiple times at the insurance-and-banking giant’s headquarters in San Antonio.
“The last big job growth we had in Colorado Springs was in 2010. We haven’t announced any new jobs,” she said. “I am not sure what the city’s talking about.”
Also, Peak Vista Community Health Centers is credited with adding 200 jobs, but vice president of operations Kandi Buckland says that isn’t strictly true, either.
“We have 200 people working in the building,” she said of Peak Vista’s expansion into the former St. Francis Hospital, which it purchased from Penrose-St. Francis Health Services.
“But those aren’t new jobs. We haven’t added that many new jobs for that location, just a handful. We might, once it’s built out, but we haven’t even set a timeline for that.”
Despite the apparent discrepancy in job numbers, Buckland has high praise for the Rapid Response program.
She also says that the city has greatly simplified the permitting process for remodeling.
“Everyone was in the room, right from the start,” she said. “Not just city planning or regional building — the fire department, the inspectors.
“It made it easy to know what was expected and what we needed to get done. And it cut the time to get the permits to two weeks. That’s an amazing difference.”
After the initial meeting, businesses can send the permit applications, construction plans and necessary fees. The project then hits the top of everyone’s review list, said Bob Cope, principal analyst in the city’s office of economic vitality.
“It’s been a great success, it’s made things easier, and we think it has created jobs,” Cope said.
“Keep in mind that many of the new jobs have a timeline — they won’t all be hired this year. Many will be hired over the next five years or longer.”
The difference between his report and the company’s statements, Cope says, is easy to understand.
Companies simply are hesitant to announce future hiring plans.
“I got these numbers from their Rapid Response forms,” Cope said of the differences between the city’s numbers and what some companies are willing to acknowledge.
“They put down the renovations, existing jobs and how many jobs they plan to hire. It’s not set in any single calendar year — but it’s not five years off, either.”
Cope said he isn’t surprised that some of the local businesses are hesitant to tout their plans.
“Companies don’t announce hiring plans until they’re ready to hire,” he said. “It doesn’t surprise me that they aren’t jumping up and down, letting people know they’re going to hire at some point in the future.”
That seems to be true for United HealthGroup, which is hiring 260 people for a new call center related to its contract with the Department of Defense to administer its health care plan in the region.
And Bass Pro Shops, part of the ambitious Copper Ridge shopping development off North Gate Road, will create 250 jobs. Bass Pro, a prominent national chain, is currently under construction and expects to open in the fall — and all those jobs are counted as new employment in the Springs.
Bal Seal’s numbers also are accurate. Bal Seal has 40 employees in the city and plans to create 210 jobs, thanks to its major building expansion in north Colorado Springs. City officials say the expansion will also create 195 indirect jobs and bring $1.9 million in tax revenues.
Cope says the successful Rapid Response program was easy for the city to implement — and he’s convinced that it has made all the difference to companies.
But, he says, it’s just one of the tools the city uses.
“Jobs are our first priority,” he says. “We’re going to create jobs by being responsive to businesses.”
The economic vitality office also has changed some of the fees and the regulatory review from the land-use division.
And Mayor Bach rolled out a series of economic incentives — tax rebates on new purchases and expansions in the Springs.
Bal Seal received about $543,000 in incentives that included the tax rebates and job training.
“We have up to 20 companies that are considering coming here,” Cope said. “And they’ll be taking advantage of those incentives, and investing millions in the community.”
The Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance says four firms have brought 600 new jobs to the area in 2013 alone, with investments of more than $75 million in the region. The Business Alliance partners with the city on job recruitment, said its President and CEO Joe Raso.
“We just arranged a meeting between Mayor Bach and Mayor (Tommy) Battle of Huntsville, Ala., during the Space Symposium,” Raso said. “We’re looking at ways to partner with the city and with other cities to create a vibrant economy here.”
Cope says the mayor also has created three separate economic opportunity zones to assist the Business Alliance with its marketing efforts. Those zones focus on downtown, Nevada Avenue and the southeast section of Colorado Springs.
“There’s a lot of potential here,” he said. “And we’re going to build on that potential.
“The main thing is jobs — that’s why we come to work, every day, we’re working on it every day.”
Jobs added: 2,095
Jobs retained: 2,610
Source: Office of Economic Vitality